英文

Editorial : Prudence Needed When Raising Tuition Fees

【明報專訊】The government has announced that university tuition fees will be increased at an average annual rate of 5.5% over the next three years.

In the mid-1990s, tuition fees for Hong Kong's subsidised universities rose for three consecutive academic years, from $24,000 in the 1994/95 academic year to $42,100. However, since the year 1997/98, there have been no increases, and tuition fees have remained at the same level.

Before the Handover, the Executive Council decided in 1996 that the tuition fees of subsidised universities should be set at a rate sufficient to recover 18% of the average student unit cost (i.e. the so-called cost recovery rate). However, this target would often be missed, and as time passes, the shortfall has become increasingly wide. The current cost recovery rate of university tuition fees is about 13%. The Education Bureau predicts that it will drop further to a low level of 12.5% in the next academic year (2024/25 academic year).

Earlier this year, Education Secretary Christine Choi mentioned the need to adhere to the 18% cost recovery rate and maintain financial discipline, hinting that tuition fees would be adjusted gradually. After months in the making, the specific plan was officially unveiled yesterday (20 June). Starting September next year (that is, from the 2025/26 academic year), the annual tuition fee per student for full-time undergraduate as well as taught and research postgraduate courses funded by the University Grants Committee (UGC) will gradually increase over three school years. From the current $42,100, it will ultimately rise to $49,500 in the 2027/28 academic year, translating into an average annual increase of 5.5%. Chief Secretary for Administration Eric Chan has described the increase as "moderate".

Post-secondary education in Hong Kong has been expanding since the Handover, and the number of subsidised degrees has skyrocketed. At the same time, the cost of teaching has also continued to rise. In the past, when the booming economy swelled the government's coffers, no doubt the government had ample fiscal room to avoid raising tuition fees. But this is no longer the situation. The authorities' proposal for an extra $200 per month from each student will not create a hefty economic burden. Overall, it can be considered acceptable.

Of course, the fee increase affects different students to different degrees. In theory, underprivileged students under serious financial stress can apply for full-rate subsidies and low-interest loans. It is therefore unlikely to create a major impact for them.

On the contrary, students from the "sandwich class" will possibly suffer the most from the tuition fee rise. If they decide to apply for loans to pay their tuition fees through the authorities' Non-means-tested Loan Scheme, they will have to pay more interest when repaying in instalments after graduating. The government should consider adjusting the annual interest rate of the loans or extending the repayment period, so as to relieve the pressure on graduates to repay their student debts.

The fundraising capacity of subsidised universities in Hong Kong varies, so tuition fees have always been a major source of funds for the operation of universities. Generally speaking, the cost of education in the humanities is relatively low, while the cost of disciplines such as medicine, science and engineering is relatively high. The notion of charging different tuition fees for different disciplines, i.e., aligning the calculation of tuition fees of different disciplines with the respective costs, has certain justifications and deserves the authorities' careful consideration.

明報社評2024.06.21:大學加費審慎而為 兼顧學生負擔能力

政府宣布分3年增加大學學費,平均每年加幅5.5%。

1990年代中,本港資助大學學費,曾連續3個學年加學費,由1994/95學年一年學費24,000元,一路上調至42,100元,然而自1997/98年度起就再無加費,一直維持至今。

回歸前,行政局(即今行政會議)1996年決定,資助大學的學費,應設定在足以收回平均學生單位成本的18%水平(即成本收回率),惟經常都不達標,隨着時間推移,差距更愈拉愈闊。目前大學學費收回成本率約為13%,教育局預測,下學年(2024/25學年)比率將進一步降至12.5%的低水平。

今年初,教育局長蔡若蓮表示,應該遵守收回18%成本的財政紀律,暗示將「循序漸進」調整學費。經過數月醞釀,具體方案昨天正式出爐,由教資會資助的全日制學士學位、研究院修課及研究課程,每名學生每學年學費水平,明年9月(即2025/26學年)起將分3個學年逐步上調,由現時的42,100元,升至2027/28學年的49,500元,平均每年調整幅度為5.5%。政務司長陳國基形容「加幅溫和」。

香港回歸以來,專上教育規模持續擴大,資助學位數目大幅增加,與此同時,教學成本也不斷上漲。以往經濟好景時,政府庫房進帳多,當然有較寬裕的財政空間不加學費,可是當下情况已不再一樣。現在當局提出每名學生平均每月要多付約200元,額外經濟負擔未至於太大,整體而言算是可以接受。

當然,加費對不同學生的影響,難免因人而異。有嚴重經濟困難的清貧學生,理應可以申領全額資助及低息貸款,加費對他們影響相信不會很大。

相比之下,夾心階層學生可能才是最受加學費影響的一群,如果他們決定透過當局的免入息審查貸款計劃借錢交學費,畢業後分期還款,就必須繳付更多利息。政府應考慮從調整貸款年利率或延長還款期入手,減輕學生畢業後償還學債的壓力。

本港各間資助大學募捐能力不一,學費始終是大學營運經費一個主要來源。一般而言,人文科的教育成本較低,醫科和理工科的成本相對較高,不同學科收取不同學費水平,按各自成本計算,有一定理據,值得當局仔細研究。

■ Glossary 生字 /

shortfall : if there is a shortfall in sth, there is less of it than you need or expect

(sb's) coffers : the money that an organisation, government, etc. has available to spend

hefty : (of an amount of money) large; larger than usual or expected

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